Posts from Transitioned Priests

From Ben (click to read post)

From Greg  (click here to read post)

From Brian
At a certain point in my own transition, I came across this website, which I found very helpful as a way to get the perspectives of others on transition.

I grew up in a very active Catholic family, with both of my parents engaged in ministry and my mother working full-time for our parish in small-town Idaho. Looking around my small town in my youth, the priesthood seemed like the most attractive option for a challenging and fulfilling career. It also seemed (to my naïve younger self) like a way for a young gay man in small-town Idaho to find acceptance and a meaningful life, and not have to deal with any questions about sexuality.

My college experience on my own nearly changed my trajectory, but I ended up opting to graduate a little early and plunged right into graduate seminary. I ended up in that haven of high-minded, international academe that is Leuven (Louvain), where I immersed myself in intense academics, even starting a Ph.D. / S.T.D. while still a seminarian. I thought that I knew what I was doing. I had a succession of spiritual directors, friends, and formation staff. So, when the time arrived, I was ordained a priest.

Idaho was (and is) pretty hard up for priests across a large geographic area. So, immediately, I was assigned as the only priest to a medium-sized parish in a university town. Fortunately, I had a great deacon as the “Parish Life Director,” who mentored me through the first years. I initially found some positive challenge and joy in parish ministry, but almost immediately started thinking about leaving the priesthood. I do not think I ever had really bought into a priestly model of ministry, and I did not really see myself being a priest for my whole life, regardless of what had been said at my ordination.
My second assignment was to the diocesan cathedral in Boise. For the first time, I was working with another priest (the rector), though he was close to retirement and everyone knew that his heart and mind were already focused elsewhere. I got on well with him, and he gave me a lot of responsibility, which helped me focus for a time on new challenges. Before long, I had decided that the cathedral would be my last assignment as a priest. My sister came to visit, and I realized over the course of her visit that my heart and mind were made up. I would leave.

So, I started making plans, researching job opportunities and careers that interested me. I started talking a lot more with family and friends about what was going on in my life. Six weeks from my intended departure date, I told the bishop and vicar general, and the rector. They expressed a lot of shock, and I received some pressure from the chancery to extend my time and participate in some sort of program. I stuck to my guns (I had no interest and saw no advantage in any of the offered programs), and in general I tried to share – thoughtfully and consistently – the reasons behind my decision.

Two weeks out, I told my parish that I was leaving the priesthood. It was hard to tell people that I was leaving, and I was fearful about what reactions the announcement would elicit. The vicar general and the rector were a blessing to me, because they allowed the transition to happen in a “light-of-day” way. It was my own decision, nothing was forcing me out and there was no scandal or blemish on my record.

My parishioners were surprised, but supportive. I had been so fearful. In the end, people are comfortable with someone making a mature decision to leave. Oh, there were expressions of sadness, and a few people saying that ‘they were praying for me to return to the priesthood / to Jesus.’ Most people were fine with a thoughtful decision to leave. The other priests of my diocese were a little more difficult to deal with, as I received more of a range of reactions, from grandiose (and obnoxious) expressions of disappointment, to hostility, to expressions of support, and even in a few cases to telling me that they too are thinking of leaving.

The transition is now complete. I’m still job-hunting, but the prospects are good. I have moved into an apartment a little ways across the city. Finally, I am now “out” as gay to family and friends, and I am telling others as it comes up. (I didn’t exactly include it in the public announcement to the parish, haha.) I do not know if I will at some point in the future become involved in the church as a lay person again, but for now I am putting some distance between myself and the Church Institutional.
I feel a sense of peace. There were difficult moments with the transition, and I am still a little anxious about what the new career will be. Yet, for the first time in a long time, I feel truly at peace with myself and with the world. It has been a summer of huge and rapid change in my life, but I am confident that it is good, and good things are coming. Life is a gift that is meant to be lived with great love.

Thank you to all who have shared their stories.
Peace, Brian
Mark
When I decided to enter the priesthood at age 19, I resolved to go to the heart of the Church; so in August of that year I flew to Rome where I began an eight year journey towards the priesthood. The seminary where I began my studies had its own resident "saint", a Padre Pio type of character that many Americans were attracted to. At the beginning, everything was incredible, the spiritual seemed so concrete, and my humanity seemed so insignificant.

Fast forward to the future at the North American College, where the politics of climbing the ecclesiastical ladder replaced the quest for union with God. It was an adjustment for me, but gradually I learned the ropes while keeping my spirituality in tact.

It was ten years after I first entered the seminary that I was ordained a priest in my home diocese, and was stationed in a parish as assistant pastor. At the parish was the Irish pastor who had held that position for over 25 years, an elderly nun in the rectory who was in love with him, and a misfit  young man who dressed like a priest but had been rejected by every seminary he applied to.

My journey includes these exterior factors, but is mostly about my interior quest or longing for happiness, fulfillment and meaning.

Five years after becoming a priest, I left. Was it because I realized I was gay? Not really. It was because, at a certain point, I realized that everyone had a say in my life except me. The bishop, the pastor, the national youth movement I was head of; but Mark had no say in his own life. So, one day, I said: enough. When I told the bishop that I needed to take a leave, he replied that this was not my decision, and to report immediately back to my diocese (I was studying at Catholic Univ). This confirmed the fact that I had lost control of my own life. He threatened then to suspend me, and the next thing I knew, my health insurance was cancelled. Note that I was not involved in any scandals or innappropriate behavior.

Years later I visited Rome once more, wondering how it would feel. I hope you might consider reading my book, since it recounts my follow up visit to Rome as well as the previous years in the seminary. Please let me know, either here or on Amazon, what you think.. It is called "That Undeniable Longing - My Road to and from the Priesthood".


Daniel
From Rome to Canterbury
I just stumbled on this website and feel compelled to write. I was ordained a roman catholic priest in 1990. At 26 I felt I was genuinely called by God (with the bishop agreeing, of course.) After a couple of years it became clear to me I did not have the charism of celibacy. My inclinations and my actions spoke clearly. I struggled with authenticity. In short, it was ripping me apart. I had many a conversion experience, lots of spiritual direction and hours before a confessor. About 10 years ago, I decided I needed out, to discern. It became clear that my greatest obstacles during my leave were my parents. They were angry, upset and controlling. They had it in them to protect the church. I convinced myself to go back in after about a year on leave, just to please my parents. Interestingly, I went back on Mother's Day! That lasted another 10 grueling years. I took another leave but this time I thought it out without telling my family. It came to me that I was still in love with priesthood, but no longer called to celibacy. What a freeing insight. The long and short is I began to worship at a local Anglican Church and fell in love with the community. I had worshipped in other churches, but always seemed drawn to the sacramental life - most of all, the Eucharist. Anglicanism gave me that (and more!) After lots of spiritual direction, prayer and personal reflection, I got out. I made private arrangements with the Anglican Bishop FIRST (someone I had already worked with in another City.) Then I approached my Roman Catholic Bishop with the results of my discernment. There was no drama, no tears, no games. I was honest and up front. He listened. The 2 bishops then spoke on the phone. The Anglican bishop phoned me and told me he was prepared to receive me formally as an Anglican priest in his Diocese!

The people of my parish are so loving and non-judgmental. At Easter one woman came to me and said: "I'm so glad you joined us. I just love your preaching and your enthusiasm." The other thing I appreciate is being called by the name God knows me by: my first name "Daniel". None of this "Father" crap. I never felt comfortable being referred to as "Father". It was always particularly uncomfortable to me in public. I remember one parish worker who would make reference about me to others and not call me Father Daniel, at least or heaven forbid, just Daniel.  No, it was all "Father's Mass" or "Father's house" or worse yet "The Father".   ahhhhhh.

Anglicans love their liturgy. And they are good at it. EVERYONE SINGS- EVERYONE! I love that. The music, the liturgy is powerful. I had one of the best Triduums ever this year. The only drawback is the crowds are smaller. But that's ok. At least I feel welcomed and feel I have something to offer. After all, how often do we hear "size isn't everything."

I belong. I fit in now. And best yet: I can love who I want without any fear or guilt. It's a much much better way to live. I feel I am acting on my integrity as a human being and honouring my call.
I feel sorry for those priests who are living the double life, and are shame based. I feel sorry for those who bark about the evils of homosexuality, however they are so far in the closet themselves, they can't find the door. Finally, I feel sorry for priests (and I have known them) who are too old and tired to leave and are either awaiting retirement or death (and oftentimes, the two come very close together.)
I am very blessed in my present ministry because I work with addicts. One of the slogans we use is: "your secrets will keep you sick." I lived in secrecy for years. I lived in a dysfunctional system. Worst yet, I had no idea I was so sick. I am not sick anymore.

The best thing: I feel great. I am not angry. I am at peace. Oh, and the final thing: I had no need to go through what appears to be an arduously painful laicization process. About 3 months after I informed my catholic bishop about what the Anglican church was prepared to do for me, I received a note in the mail from him with a "Decree" stating simply that I had been "excardinated." Simple. Honest. Still called to priesthood. No longer expected to bear the burden of celibacy. It makes sense for me. Congruent with my heart. Conscience. Ah yes, the value of conscience..... they taught us that in the seminary. We don't hear much about it anymore. I wonder why.


From Joel
I just recently discovered your writings and website. A couple of thoughts.

Although I left the priesthood over 16 years ago, much of subject matter in your articles still preoccupy my thoughts. As you pointed out many times throughout, it is hard to leave, and much of that has to do with the indoctrination for most of us from an early age. Hence, "Catholicism” is part of our DNA, as it were.

Secondly, your take on "gays" and the priesthood is right on. I should know, I am gay. I was in a relationship with another priest for many years. He stayed (he was a lifer), I left, but we continued to love each other as best we could under the circumstances. He recently passed away and since then, I have struggled to redefine who I am as gay man and former priest.

I want to thank you for your efforts in clarifying and expounding upon many of the various issues that continue to harm the church and its members. Sadly to say, I have decided to move on. Pope Benedict's recent message, which is nothing new, about the sinful nature (blah blah blah) of being gay, and how it undermines the love of two people etc., is enough for me. I can no longer remain faithful to a church dominated by such evil rhetoric. Everything you mention in regards to infallibility is so right on. I want to belong to an organization that includes, does not exclude. I want to feel connected, not broken. So, my journey has started over. I am excited. I hope to discover many more interesting writings from you in the future.

The Yellow Silk Scarf  (click to read post)

From Bob (click to read post)

From William (click to read post)

From Bob
Was Our “Sin” That Great?
Thirty-five years ago I began what has been a very happy marriage. At the same time I ended a phase of my life for which I had worked, studied, and sacrificed. I was, and am, a Catholic priest. Marriage in those days meant excommunication; the penalty has been lessened, but I could no longer function publicly as a priest.

Our pastor announced that a “great scandal” was about to take place. He didn’t mention names; he didn’t have to. Many members of my own family weren’t sure how to take this new situation. My mother knew; she wouldn’t speak to or of us for many years. Only one of my classmates offered to help; I didn’t find the clergy “a band of brothers.”

I promised celibacy because I wanted more than anything else to be a priest. Even though St. Paul said that celibacy is a gift given to a few, the Church requires it for ordination. I figured that the priesthood was worth it. Some years later I began to change my mind – about celibacy. As a service chaplain I was able to spend much of my time with military couples and their families. Suddenly I was seeing an aspect of life that I really didn’t know existed. These husbands and wives, these fathers, mothers, and children had each other. They came home to each other; I went back to the stereo in my BOQ room. The walk or ride back to the BOQ was often reflective and unpleasant. I’m a people person, which may have had something to do with my wanting to be a priest. Now I was learning that my crowded life was actually lonely. I was busy and I loved it, but I had no one with whom to share my thoughts, my plans, or even to
listen to my moments of triumph or my frustrations. The words of Genesis, “It is not good that the man should be alone” had a new meaning. I was alone and now I knew it.

After some time I committed the “sin” that will not be forgiven: in one of the best moves of my life I married a wonderful woman. I didn’t steal money from the parish funds, I didn’t abuse children, and I didn’t have an affair with the choir director, male or female. If I had done any of those things I’d be transferred or promoted, but not kicked out. Getting married was good for me, and in the course of years good for the Church that was spared a frustrated old bachelor. Is a pedophile allowed to give communion? I’m not allowed to be an extraordinary Eucharistic minister. I can’t teach in a Catholic school, although I have academic qualifications. I’m a nonperson, because I recognized that it was better for me to marry than burn. (Quote from St.Paul)

Was my “crime” and that of over 25,000 married priests so serious? Judging from the consequences it must have been. As a diocesan priest I broke a solemn promise to obey a manmade law that many feel shouldn’t exist. I broke the promise because it was better for me to do so. This was a carefully reasoned decision, involving consultation, contemplation, and prayer. What was so wrong? First of all, my marriage was out in the open. The bishops could hide or move the child abusers; they couldn’t stop people from reading the local papers or wondering why Father wasn’t here anymore. One Cardinal was fond of saying that he didn’t lose one good priest; he didn’t comment on the changing ratio of straight and gay priests in his archdiocese. What’s so terrible about married priests? To a bishop who is used to having complete control of his clergy from ordination to retirement or burial it could be catastrophic. He might have to explain some of his decisions, personnel and otherwise. He might have to take families into consideration when it was time to make changes. Some of his power would vanish. He might even be forced into diocesan collegiality. His world would never be the same.

Would any benefits accrue from allowing married priests to return to active ministry? The first and obvious payback would be a dramatic improvement in the quality of marital counseling. Another would be the repopulating of empty rectories. A third would be the addition of men and their families who had the strength of character to make decisions and live with them. For the past few years Pope John Paul has apologized for the Church’s conduct to many people.
He had the right idea, even though some of his apologies were a bit fuzzy. Maybe I missed it but I didn’t read of hear of an apology for selling the wives and children of married priests into slavery. (The proceeds went to the Church according to a decree of Pope Urban II.) He hasn’t apologized for stonewalling the applications of many priests who wish a dispensation from celibacy. He hasn’t apologized for the damage celibacy has done to the gene pool. He hasn’t
apologized for the Vatican custom of referring to us as ex-priests or former priests when Canon Law states that ordination is never lost or taken away. Apparently papal apologies are reserved for those who don’t threaten the Church’s power structure. We don’t need an apology; all we want is a word of welcome.

Some bishops, motivated in part by the shortage of priests, are clinging to the theory that pedophilia is treatable, if not curable. They will continue the disastrous practice of shifting, hoping that the doctors are right. In the meantime over 25,000 priests are still exiled, still ignored, still punished. It is really punishment motivated toward reformation or teen-age spite? Who is being punished? Many of us are in active ministry, acting as chaplains and counselors, baptizing, burying, officiating at weddings, and conferring the sacraments of the sick. We have our families, our children and grandchildren, and we have the delight of working with the People of God. On the other hand, parishes are deprived of Sunday liturgy, the sick are not visited, and people are uncomfortable with the perceived sexual orientation of their priest. The current headlines have shown what has been known for many years: the man-made law of celibacy was an error. It had its basis in politics rather than spirituality, and it should have been repealed many years ago. Rather than revolutionaries, we were “ahead of our time.” Our “crime” really wasn’t so bad.


From Carlo
Hello Henry. It's been a long time since I got in touch with you. I’m not sure you remember me or if I can refresh your memory. Anyway, what counts for me is airing out my story and thanking you and other transitioned priests' correspondences. It gave me encouragement to finally make the leap of faith the motive is nothing else than integrity and love. I applied for a leave of absence end suspension of my faculties in view of a dispensation granted in early February of this year. Then I was given notice of immediate dismissal early march. From that time on it has been an adventurous roller coaster ride of adjusting to this new state of life.

Finding work was really tough. I landed as a call center technical support agent catering to customers in the US. It was fun but I have to leave that work. It just doesn't maximize my potentials. Now I’m working as a project manager to an IT holdings company and am in my first month. I’m still adjusting to the corporate lifestyle. It really is a different world out here. lol. 

What contributed to my joy is the birth of my daughter late last month. It was indeed bliss to cuddle and care for my own child. Although I found joy, contentment and love in the religious and priestly life, family life is another parallel level of joy, contentment and love. Indeed, my decision to leave the priesthood is without regrets, although I admit I miss celebrating the Eucharist and reconciliation. Missing and regretting are two different concepts!

That's it for now. Back to work again. I again reiterate my extreme gratitude to you and other transitioned priests who offered their story and support. I love you all in Christ.

Hope I hear something from you. Thanks and God bless us you all.

Carlo

From Rucgaed (Click to read post)


Ksiadz Pralat
Active priesthood for me was a rather brief stint in the 1970's as an associate pastor and simultaneous academic work leading to a master of arts in New Testament theology.  Since that time, i.e. over the course of the past 35 years, I’ve worked at retaining the gift of faith that I received and maintaining my membership in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Both have taken a considerable amount of struggle ~ but, taking the long view, especially now achieving “senior status”, I think growth to maturity in faith has been well worth the effort.

What I offer herein are some trial balloons, reflections over the course of these past many years, not with any expectation that my perceptions are new/different/earth-shattering.  My hope is that those with whom I share the status of “resigned priest” might use my thoughts as starting points for further reflection and comment that in some way might contribute to a growth in awareness and understanding of how some of us might have been ordained and then subsequently come to a decision to set aside active ministry.  And, for those not yet there, then perhaps arrive at a level of comfort with that decision.  As in all things, we really do talk to/for ourselves.   My thoughts are collected and offered as the following propositions:

1.My reading tells me that a distinction must be made between the vocation to sacramental priesthood and the charism of celibacy in the Roman Catholic tradition; and that a host of people, including men/women, gay/straight, active/resigned priests, theologians and hierarchy would benefit from an open and honest discussion of these distinctions and their implications.

2.Evidence abounds to tell us that diverse people, to respond fully to a diverse community,  receive the call to ministerial priesthood at different times in their lives; here I make no distinction between men and women.  It seems safe to assume that God, through the community of believers, calls all sorts, both men and women, gay and straight, younger and more mature, to ordained leadership in the community with which the Lord gifted us.  History provides no evidence to the contrary.  If the Spirit moves where She will, is it possible for that Spirit to be harnessed or mandated.

3.As a necessary corollary, it’s necessary to address the charism of celibacy, i.e. a gift of the Holy Spirit, with an emphasis on the concept of “gift”.  Can anyone command the gift of celibacy be given to another human?  Is there anything in the ordination rite for the Roman Catholic priesthood that calls the Holy Spirit to grant the charism of celibacy.

4.The call to holiness, regardless of vocation, must be included here along with concepts of “grace” and “nature” in our tradition.  All the baptized are called to holiness and given sufficient “grace” or persist on that road, regardless of station in life.  But, we know the basic philosophical concept, “agere sequitur esse”, i.e. theologically “grace follows nature.”  When one acts according to one’s nature, grace flows.

5.Pause for a moment to understand why the Roman magisterium has a problem admitting that homosexual orientation is natural, from nature; the abundance of homosexuals are born with this orientation.  With this foundation, it’s obvious that the path to holiness, for a grace-filled life, is found by pursuing one’s nature and living that nature under the umbrella of the golden rule, “Do unto others....”

6.How about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic within the male homosexual community as the golden rule being lived within our community to its fullness, men generously and lovingly taking care of one another, attending to the horrors of the disease with the compassion of a Mother Teresa, doing as Jesus would do in the same circumstance? 

At the time of this writing, with the decision to canonize Father Damien of lepers on Molokai fame, who contracted and then died from the disease himself, isn’t it timely to think about all of those gay people who rallied around their partners, lovers, friends and family members to care for them as they battled the horrors of AIDS, not being sure in the early days of the manner/mode of transmission, truly making real the biblical good Samaritan?  Those men and women are also saints ~

7.Useful distinctions can be made among those who accept the call to sacramental priest-hood.  Maybe a level playing field can be established to better examine the manner in which each of these groups might exercise ministerial priesthood once ordained; What dynamics are at play when those within each of these groups, having been ordained, exercises an option to resign from active ministry?  The following categories are offered with some general observations/comments about each as starting points.

A.Straight men with the charism of celibacy
Like any general category, there are many sub-groups.  I suspect that this group might include those who are just asexual, others who have a genuine commitment to ministry, some who are ambitious and see themselves climbing the ecclesial ladder.  Perhaps this group includes those who grow into their awareness of the charism and live it with comfort.

B.Straight men without the charism of celibacy
Perhaps this group includes those who leave to get married, those who may have a mistress on the side (although this seems to be more difficult in the male clerical environment and with the female psyche), those who struggle with excesses such as food or alcohol, and a goodly number of pedophiles, perhaps the psycho-sexually immature.  Integrity has to be a constant struggle in this group, unless the individual is so hardened that he refuses any introspection.

C.Gay men with the charism of celibacy
One step beyond the first group, perhaps those within this category have had to struggle with sexual identity and then grew into a recognition that the charism of celibacy was present in their lives.  While they may have had to do some testing to find out, these individuals seem to be able to live full ministerial lives of service and grow with their celibacy.  Further exploration of their psychological make-up would be quite beneficial.

D.Gay men without the charism of celibacy
I place myself within this category.  I believe I did/do have a vocation to ministerial priesthood but it was not accompanied by the charism of celibacy.  Yet, because of the seminary structure being so goal-oriented, and the social and religious negativity around homosexuals in the time frame within which my discernment and seminary training occurred, with the Viet Nam war and the draft operative considerations, I took the leap to ordination with the belief/hope that the grace of office would be sufficient to overcome the lack of charism.

Within this group I suspect there is a subset that works with the conviction that any change in the discipline of celibacy will only come from the bottom up and not the top down, and therefore these individuals justify remaining in ministerial priesthood while being sexually active to both acknowledge the reality of not having the charism and affirm the need to be partnered.  I also suspect that these individuals are able to live with the inherent emotional conflict and see a greater good in what they are doing. 

This is not to say that there are not others who are simply sexually active in the gay community and are either on some sort of path to self-destruction because of the emotional conflict/guilt or on a path to self discovery and awareness.

But in all cases, I suspect that these men make a value judgement about their vocations to priesthood and either believe that they have so much invested in the process and status that they are not going to abandon priesthood, or are simply too afraid to explore what life outside of ministerial priesthood might look like.

8.I believe there are four other categories about which I am unqualified to speak, but these would be the women who continue to struggle with the hierarchy of the Catholic church to acquire recognition of an equal call to ministerial priesthood.  So the 4 groups would be: [1]  Straight women with the charism of celibacy; [2]  Straight women without the charism of celibacy; [3]  Lesbian women with the charism of celibacy; and [4] Lesbian women without the charism of celibacy.

9.Elisabeth Kubler-Ross articulated 5 steps in the grieving process and in the early days of their application people thought that one moved through them in a sequential and orderly fashion.  That turned out not to be the case and she was the first to recognize and admit it.  The categories offered are artificial and no individual engaged in the vocation struggle fits neatly for all time in any one of them.  They’re offered as a framework for discussion and the possibility of deeper personal understandings of the process we experience on the path to decision-making about ordination to Catholic priesthood and then the struggle to live the life within which we have found ourselves.

10.A psychology professor said many years ago that in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we make the best decision possible for us at the time we make the decision.  That’s another paradigm those of us who, having made decisions to accept ordination and then growing to different awareness of vocation and charisms,  have as a lifelong dialog.  After being out of ministerial priesthood for 35 years, that conversation continues, but personal growth, awareness and happiness are available, accessible, and attainable.

11.My broader concern is the American hierarchy taking the Catholic church into even uglier waters, i.e. their need to continue to demonize and marginalize gay men and women.  Once could offer quite a number of reasons for these public positions and among them would certainly be the need to keep the spotlight from shining on their own lack of psychosexual maturity. 

12.James Alison’s On Being Liked offers interesting insight on how community is formed in the tensions of inclusion/exclusion, especially as it pertains to the gay community’s relationship to the Roman Catholic church.  While community can be formed by gathering those of like commitment, it can also be formed by calling together a group to demonize others, creating exclusivity by identifying those who do not or cannot belong to the group.

A perfect example, preventing the recognition of the commitment of same sex couples, could easily have been moved into a dialog about assuring equal protection under the law, but it has been turned into a religious referendum on Adam/Eve.  Rather than taking a mature leadership role, separating church and state, the bishops join the rabid right and forge a campaign that flies in the face of what Jesus would do.

Signed with the hope that these comments will elicit further discussion and growth toward a fullness of grace and maturity,

Ksiadz Pralat


From Conrad
Kudos upon a fine essay.  In your description of conditions under which priests leave you are right on.  This reason for some, that for others, and more probably a good mixture of both for all.  I found myself resonating with many of the circumstances you describe.  The sexual one, of course was my primary one, but I came to discover the integrity issues later.  When I left I was actually preserving my integrity without being conscious of doing so!  

I am particularly impressed with your criticism of the church and especially your pointing up the control issues.  Like a surgeon, you seek to excise what is wrong or, rather, be the prophet calling for that to happen.  Like a good surgeon, you cut with a sharp scalpel, but mercifully with anasthetic compassion.

I remember my teacher from St. Meinrad defining for us what a classic was.  He said that “If you read something, and your reaction is ‘That’s JUST what I wanted to say! you have just read a classic.  The same holds if the reaction is “I wish I had written that!”  Well, after I read your essay on the website, my reaction, truly, was “I wish I had written that!”

They can secretly embrace this love in the dark and shaming shadows of mandated celibacy, force this love out of their lives, or extract themselves from the priesthood and pursue the relationship. None of these choices seems appealing, but true freedom is found in the latter. (website)”

To borrow a phrase from the webmaster’s essay on leaving the priesthood, I was not pushed out of the priesthood so much as I was pulled out by the longing and need for an intimate relationship.  This longing was present and extremely powerful prior to ordination, and was filled to some extent by companionship with a close but celibate girlfriend during my later years in the seminary. 

At the same time, the high esteem in which priesthood was held in our family, along with a yen for adventure, was pulling me into the seminary.  In the idealism of youth, my primary motive for seeking ordination was to go into what I considered the greatest profession to which one could aspire.  In the pivotal deciding moment, that motive could be summed up in the then current Schlitz commercial: “You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can!”  Another motive was a need to “prove myself,” prompted by a notable though unrecognized inferiority complex, which in turn had been spawned by guilt feelings about sex, especially masturbation.I naively thought that the problems of intimacy and sexuality would take care of themselves once I was ordained and received the special graces of the sacrament.  In my day, sexuality and intimacy were never really addressed in the seminary curriculum.  The matter of appropriate boundaries was barely touched upon, if at all.

Needless to say, I was very naive in my expectation that sacramental grace would work a miracle.  The longing for intimacy and a sexual relationship perdured despite any sacramental grace that might have been operative.  Four years after ordination I experienced the thrill of sexual intercourse for the first time, with “Joan,” a counselee from outside my parish, whose marriage was on the rocks.   I distinctly remember reflecting, in the afterglow of that event, on how awesome and wonderful it was.  We continued having sex occasionally until Joan moved out of state four years later.

Then, within a year, I struck up an intimate relationship with “Beverly,” a parishioner, who turned out to be an intimate friend and sexual partner for sixteen years, during the last twelve of which we were separated by many miles.  As had been the case with Joan, Beverly and I both were caught up in a repetitive cycle of sin, guilt, repentance and going to confession.  It was only after fourteen years into this relationship that I quit feeling guilty about it, reasoning that the only thing that prevented it from being honorable was the church’s law of mandatory celibacy.  It was already sacramental in my eyes.
Beverly and I loved each other deeply.  However, since I felt that leaving the priesthood was not an option at that time, I could not be for her what she really wanted and needed—a husband in a Church-sanctioned marriage.  I did help her in satisfying that need when I introduced her to another man, a widower I figured she’d like because he resembled her long deceased husband in many respects.  He would be able to give her what I never could.  They married two years later and had a very happy marriage.  I pride myself on the role I played in bringing that about—it was by far the most loving thing that I ever did for her.  I still miss her and mourn her.  She died of cancer some years ago.

Four years after letting go of Beverly, I met “Marie,” my current partner.  For me, it was love at first sight.  We were both on the rebound, I from giving up Beverly and she from a recent divorce.  Our relationship quickly became a sexual one and was most gratifying to both of us.  Since we lived some distance apart, most of our visiting was done by telephone, but we also visited each other frequently in person.  Rumors and gossip started flying, and were apparently reported to the bishop, who then demanded that I either terminate my relationship with Marie completely or leave the priesthood.  I felt trapped because I couldn’t see myself doing either one, and spent an agonizing couple of months in hell trying to decide which road to take.

On the one hand, leaving the priesthood was, in my mind at the time, unthinkable.  Leaving would stigmatize me forever among my family, friends and parishioners if I couldn’t do so with a dispensation from celibacy, and dispensations were not being granted (or so I had heard from a highly respected canon lawyer) unless the priest was in danger of death or was at least 65 years old and had been in a marital relationship for at least ten years.  I qualified on none of these counts.  I still perceived getting married outside the Church as living in sin and  jeopardizing my eternal salvation.  Last though not least, I had serious misgivings about being able to start a new career and supporting myself and a wife in the secular world.  I was long past my prime, and priesthood was the only career I had ever known.

On the other hand, I could not bring myself to give up my relationship with Marie.  Our bonding had become so intense and we had become so much a part of each other that parting was not seen as a viable option.  I shed buckets of tears at the very thought.  I was angry with God, and cursed the bishop and the Church for hanging on to the outdated, stupid and unjust requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests.  The thought of taking Marie places, being seen with her, living with her without having to make excuses or alibis—all of this had a powerful, almost irresistible appeal and reflected something akin to what I had heard Beverly say nearly a decade before, about wishing that our relationship could be open and above board.  Besides, I was convinced, judging from my record, that even if I did give up this love of my life, sooner or later there would be another Marie, Joan or Beverly.  I toyed with the idea of agreeing to the bishop’s terms and carry on with the relationship in secret while I stayed in the priesthood, but realized that this really wouldn’t work anymore. 

I matured a great deal during this trying time.  I sought counseling, which helped me immensely in sorting things out.  The counselor helped me realize that my upbringing had made me far too dependent on “Holy Mother” church.  I became more my own person.  My counselor helped me see that I needed to follow my convictions.  Well, I had long been convinced that I wouldn’t be going to hell for loving Marie.  To her great credit, Marie stayed out of it, neither encouraging me to stay in the priesthood nor urging me to leave. 

I’ll never know just how it happened that all of the introspection, counseling, prayer and whatever other operative factors there might have been came together, but I woke up one morning (in more ways than one!) with the conviction and the feeling that I could, indeed, leave the priesthood and make my life with Marie.  My euphoria knew no bounds!  A great burden had been lifted off of my shoulders.  I was free!

Other concerns resurfaced after I had resigned my priestly offices,  but they were short lived, though they did occasion some vacillation.  How would I, at my age, support myself and Marie?  Did the diocese have any work for me in a salaried or stipendiary position? (No.)  Could I find employment as an electrician?  (Not without extensive training and licensing, even though I was fairly knowledgeable and skilled in the field.)  Would I be able to make it?  (With my modest nest egg plus diocesan pension and social security, yes).  Was Marie still there for me?  (Yes!  Amen!  Alleluia!)

As it turned out, less than two years later the Vatican did grant my request for a dispensation, though I no longer regard it as being so essential for my well-being.  I’m reminded of an incident that occurred shortly after I left and while still awaiting the dispensation.  I happened to meet a transitioned fellow-priest on the street and struck up a conversation with him.  I asked him whether he had ever applied for a dispensation.  He replied, “Hell, no!  I wouldn’t give ‘em the satisfaction!”

One of the biggest hurts in the process of transition came, again, at the hands of the Church.  When a bishop’s representative called on me to advise me of the dispensation having been granted, he also had been instructed to inform me of some no-no’s.  For example,  I was not to live in any community in which I had served as a priest, I could not be an extraordinary minister of Eucharist nor a lector at Mass, I was not to head up a CCD program, I was not to teach in a Catholic school, I was not to teach theology in any school etc.  In other words, I was put in a position inferior to the laity, who enjoyed certain rights and privileges that were now being denied me.  This struck me as vindictive and unbecoming to Christ’s Church, even though the bishop was authorized to dispense from any of the prohibitions.  Also, the notification of the dispensation and accompanying prohibitions was made orally in a public restaurant, and I never received a copy of the rescript granting my dispensation. 

That’s my story.  Any reaction or question the reader might have can be directed to the webmaster to forward to “Conrad.”


From Mike
I read your journey with great interest. I was ordained a Diocesan priest in 1976. I served as an associate pastor for two years, Director of Youth Ministry for five years, and pastor / administrator for six years.

Loretta and I were married in 1986. Two years later, I went through the candidacy process. I would use many words to describe the process --"seamless" is not one of the words that I would use. The recommendation of my  (Roman) Bishop was not a requirement for that I was glad. He and I never saw "eye to eye" on anything. While attending a LARC (Lutherans Anglicans Roman Catholic) meeting after being installed as a Lutheran pastor, he and I saw each other. I had just celebrated my fifteen year of ordination. The Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod had given me a certificate that read: "Fifteen years in Lutheran Ministry". When I showed the Roman Bishop the certificate, his comment was "I knew it all the time!"

In 1988-9, I attended Wartburg Theological Seminary -- a very enjoyable nine months. After being "Martinized", I was installed as pastor of Christ Our Savior. I didn't go through internship.  I am now in my fourth call.

The most interesting of your paragraphs was the one entitled, "Why is it Hard to Leave?" I have known many who tried to leave the priesthood, but the thought that they could do nothing else was too dominate -- so many returned, broken men. And those who were able to leave are still asking the same question, "When will the Church admit that they were wrong and I was right?" [My response to the question is always the same, "NEVER!"]

In the nine years of priestly ministry, I was always in trouble for things like: giving communion to people who didn't deserve it (not my words, but the Bishop's words), celebrating a funeral for someone who committed suicide, celebrating weddings for priests who wished to marry, and helping those who did not want to go through the annulment process -- I taught them about the internal form.

When I asked the Bishop to go on a leave, he asked me to do him a favor. I was to help a priest that was drinking himself to death. I agreed, and what a mistake that was. In the end, he ordered me to go to St Luke's in Suitland MD. After returning, I went on leave. One year later, I made a directed retreat. My decision was: leave the priesthood, leave the Roman Catholic Church, and marry Loretta.

At St Mary's Seminary (Houston), I was considered theologically liberal. At Wartburg Theological Seminary (Dubuque), I was considered theologically conservative. And I don't believe that I have changed very much.

Pax et Bonum
Mike


Daniel
I'm not part any more of the official hierarchy of the Catholic Church.  In fact I have another work to support my family.  I work with people who are disappointed in the Catholic Religion for one reason or another. Others are very suspicious because once you criticize the establishment many would feel lost or afraid to go one step forward as you have outlined in your wonderful website!

Some are born photocopiers, they just go where the majority goes.  Others are originals because they have their own mind and they are not afraid of taking drastic or daring decisions.  But this type of people are becoming very rare as everybody wants to have a wedding in church, his children baptized and receive the sacraments in the church....

In tiny Malta (Europe), socializing is still very important.  Hence not to form part of the majority may create one or two problems.  But thank God we have the internet where I can have wonderful conversations! In private conversations many agree with married priesthood but as in one fairy tale, the mice are still discussing who is going to put a bell around the cat's neck!


From Robert
I was very moved by your writings.  I was ordained in 1978 and fell in love with Laura (my wife) in 1980. We were married in 1986 after a 1 year sabbatical. I was instantly the Father of 4 children and have been the Father of teenagers for 26 years. We had 2 daughters and then raised a family of six.

Your reflections stirred many memories! 

I wanted to thank you for your spiritual self disclosure. 

Laura, my wonderful love, noted at one point in my 'sufferings' that she had lost ministry as well by our choice to marry.  Odd that I never considered that loss till then.  The cruelty with which married priests suffer is shared so intimately by the person's they love.  These loved ones feel so much for the priest whom they love that they may remain silent about their own loss so as not to add to that pain. At that moment I realized a whole new level of what a gift Laura's love is to my life. 

We have remained active in the Catholic Church.  I actually continued to worship where I had served as a priest.  After a marriage ceremony at which I presided for two divorced church members, I was finally asked to leave that parish.  And  yet another pastor courageously asked us to join his parish instead. 

We remain Catholic in worship, but I do not see my children remaining so.  Too many cruelties?  Maybe a dimming of zeal. 

With a large family responsibility I sought a "good paying job".  I miss priesthood but I truly love my wife and family.  I feel that God is very much a part of my journey.  Although it saddens me to see the Roman Catholic Church suffer so much loss: leadership loss, moral loss, financial loss, and membership loss, these are the signs of a church hierarchy that will not listen to the urgings of the Spirit.

And yet I do not let go....

Thank you for creating a place where those "in transition" may find support.


From John
I was quite interested, and impressed, in reading your story. I know the courage and freedom that comes from telling it. However, it is important to note that not all priests leave to marry. Some of us leave for other reasons and find love afterwards.

In my case, I was a priest in active ministry for 3 years in a midwestern diocese. In my seminary time in Boston, MA, I was there during the pedophilia scandal. This entire experience had a profound effect on me. When the story broke (January 6, 2002, a day I will never forget) there were satillite trucks lined up at the entrance to the property for 6 months! It go to the point where we would wake up and turn on the TV to see what the 'scandal of the day' would be. One morning, I woke up to see a reporter on the television standing just below my window, and saw myself closing the blinds on the screen! Before I made the decision to present myself for ordination, I had decided that I would investegate to the fullest extent that I could to find out that this would not be a problem in the diocese that I was going into.

My bishop, having been from the Archdiocese of Boston, was hailed as the 'saviour' of the bunch, and as such had a great reputation. He wrote article after article and letter after letter condemning the actions of his 'brother bishops.' I actually believed what he wrote and believed the reports that over the years there were only a miniscule number of offenders in the diocese and was satisfied that I had made the right decision.

My first assignment after ordination was in a large influential parish in the largest city outside of the See city of the diocese. I spent two years there, and was content. I was happy with my ministry, but very disturbed with the micromanagement of the bishop and the callousness and gossip of the pastor. It is also while I was there that I met a friend with whom I became quite close. We would get together in a group of 5 people at a buffalo wings restaurant and then e-mail each other as well.

When I was moved to the See city of the diocese and placed at the largest parish in the state, this is where my world began to unravel. It was there that I encountered LifeTeen, the youth ministry program founded by pedophile (Former) Msgr. Dale Fushek and Phil Baniewicz. I was determined to find something in this program worth getting behind, because I didn't take to it immediately. The first thing I found when I googled 'lifeteen' (after the corporate website) was 'LifeTeen founder arrested." This got my attention, and the next thing I knew I was up to my ears in information that this was a pedophile victim grooming program.

As I was deciding what to do, and getting used to my new parish, I discovered that one of my predecessors was indeed using this program for the purpose mentioned above. I could not bring accusations, though, since I recieved the information anonymously. I spoke to my spiritual director about this, and he said that the bishop should know about it. He stated that he was meeting with the bishop in a few days and would take my report and documentation with him, and I went to my pastor (I was the associate). My pastor got with my offending predecessor (at the request of the bishop) and ambushed me with the fact that they knew about the program and proceeded to tell me that everything that I found out were lies. I actually began to believe them.

This is when I talked to my friend at my former parish. (We kept in touch when I left). She, divorced with 4 kids, was apalled at the information I had and even more apalled at the reaction. I knew that this information had to get out, so I started a blog (now up again) lifeteenisdangerous.blogspot.com and posted my information.

About a month after I put this up, I was at a penance service with the bishop. He pulled me aside and quite angrily told me 'I order you under obedience to take down your blog. You are going against the bishop.' He also said "I order you under obedience to put your full support behind lifeteen." At that point, I had a crisis of conscience. I could barely eat or sleep and began having panic attacks. I fasted and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for about 3 months, and finally made the decision that in order to live my promises, I had to leave. I had come to decide that living under a bridge was better than what I was enduring. So, on December 18, 2006 I made my decision to leave. I called the bishop's office, asked for a meeting, (which I got 2 weeks later) and we agreed that I would voluntarily give up my faculties a week later.

Well, after that, God placed a great gift in my life. My friend, "Ann", from my former parish and I both realized that we were having some more feelings than just friendship. This has blossomed into the greatest love that I have ever known. We are both spiritual and have both transitioned into the Polish National Catholic Church (www.pncc.org), which has full apostolic succession. Well, as we all know, the hierarchy does not give up it's priests willingly. I have suffered from an apparent 'blacklisting', lost a job from dioscean interference, and yes, even Ann has suffered at the hands of these power-hungry narcissists. She lost her job at a dioscean high school because we are getting married on January 3, 2009, also because she would not renounce her membership in the PNCC.

So, to those considering leavng, to do so may be the only way that you can live your priestly promises. This is a fact. It also can be (and was for me) the most freeing thing that I ever did! My relatonship with God has never been stronger, and gets stronger every day. However, also remember that the hierarchy can wield some enormous power, so trust in God and rely on His strength. If you go where He wants you, you will ALWAYS prevail in His name.

Thank you for letting me share my story!


From Jim
I really want to thank you very much for establishing the web site for transitioning priests. As you are very much aware, when you leave active ministry in the Catholic Church it can be an extraordinarily difficult transition. You have encapsulated on the web site all of my feelings and
much more.

I grew up with a father who was an extremely traditional Irish Catholic and a mother who came from a mixed marriage between my grandfather who was Irish Catholic and my grandmother who was 1st generation Norwegian Lutheran. My mother questioned everything, especially Humane Vitae, but passed away at the age of 42 when I was 14 years old.

I spent 11 years in active ordained ministry in the Diocese of Albany, NY where my bishop, at least outwardly had the reputation of being extremely progressive. All that being said, the past 8  years I have worked as a computer systems analyst in state government. For three years before finding this position I worked in various computer programming and networking positions because I had an aptitude for it and needed to find something to support my wife and I and a teenage step-daughter.    All the while, whatever parish we went to was always very uncomfortable. Some of the priests were accepting, some were not, but the general sense we had was that this was no longer our home. Part of this is because I knew too much, I could no longer sit back and keep the little man behind the curtain so to speak.

My wife is a dyed in the wool Catholic and approaches her faith in a much more nostalgic way than I .  For a couple of years she had been in one of the more traditional communities of women religious in our diocese and left before final vows. It's very hard for her to see beyond the Catholicism she grew up with. For me, I always saw my mission and ministry as one of renewal and when that renewal seemed no longer possible, my reason for being in ministry began to erode.

Everything you have said reflects my common experience. I was always in a unique perspective because I never bought the Catholic company line even before Vatican II. My grandmother always was Lutheran and gave me a different point of view. She had a common sense faith that she
passed on to my mother and I. What I have seen from Rome in the last 20+ years leaves me with no regrets for the decision I made to leave and get married 11 years ago.

Everything and everyone we experience in this life is “Grace.” God does not sweat the small stuff that we hang onto so dearly. I really wish you were in a church closer to here because I would never hesitate to have you as my pastor. You are a gifted minister of the gospel no matter where you minister it.


From Jeff  (click to see his post)

From Henry
Years ago, I spoke with a doctoral student who was writing his dissertation about priests who have transitioned out of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church to ordained ministry in other Christian denominations. If I remember correctly, he has interviewed about 200 priests who have made this transition. The purpose of his dissertation was to find out whether or not marriage has been a positive or negative influence in their new ministries. From my discussions with him, he has received an earful from these priests about the positive influence marriage has been to their ministry. He also said that my transition was the most “seamless” he has heard.

I’ve been ordained for twenty eight years. For fifteen of these years I ministered in the Catholic Church and have been ministering for about thirteen years in another Christian denomination. My Catholic ministry included being an associate priest for a couple of years, pastoring three small rural congregations for six years and a larger city congregation with an associate pastor and staff for seven years. I also served on the bishop’s staff as Director of Missions, on the Presbyteral Council, Personnel Board, Catholic Schools Board of Directors, and was a presiding judge on the Matrimonial Tribunal. As mentioned earlier, I was also a member of a priests' support group. Ministry in my present denomination includes one year of education, an internship, pastoring two rural congregations and now, for the past seven years, pastoring a mid-sized city congregation. I’m also a member of a pastors' support group.

Because I enjoyed ordained ministry, I wanted to continue in another Christian denomination. In my study of what other churches believe, the document that most captured my interest was The Augsburg Confession. It is a summary of the concerns of the sixteenth century church reformers that was presented to Emperor Charles V in 1530. It's amazing how little has changed in the Church's control of priests during the past 500 years.

No church or denomination is without its problems and this one has its share, however it’s an inclusive forward looking denomination. The big controversy now is allowing gay and lesbian people to be pastors. Lots of people have their shorts in a bunch over this, but it is a civil right issue so has passed and become policy. Notice, I said “passed”. This, along with other regulations, are voted on by both lay and ordained leaders. This process is messy and contentious, but it trusts the Holy Spirit to work through God’s people and not just a chosen few. It also keeps important contemporary issues before the church, where they can’t be denied and silenced. Also, bishops are voted into office and return to a congregation or retire, depending upon their age, when their terms are completed. This helps to keep them grounded and to stay connected with both pastors and laity.

When I was seriously considering leaving the priesthood, I requested and received permission to go on a four month sabbatical. Thanks to a consortium of seminaries where I studied, I was able to register at the Catholic seminary and take all my classes in the seminary of another denomination. During this time, I contacted the other denomination to inquire what the process would be to transition into ordained ministry there.

The requirements are fairly standard for anyone transitioning from the priesthood into ordained ministry in another Christian denomination They are: an academic year of education at a seminary of your choice, membership in a church for a year (which can begin with your education), an internship (salaried), and approval to be placed on the clergy roster. Because they recognized my Roman Catholic ordination, I didn't have to be re-ordained. There is a fair amount of paperwork, a required psychological evaluation, and a few interviews with the Candidacy Committee. I also needed a letter from my previous employer, in this case, my Catholic bishop, which I postponed requesting until after leaving the priesthood.

After receiving a favorable evaluation from my internship, I completed my final interview with the Candidacy Committee and was approved for ordained ministry. I interviewed in a congregation, negotiated the Call package and began work. After a few years, I completed mobility papers and requested to move to another area of the country. We interviewed in another congregation, negotiated the Call package and began ministry there.

In the Call process, the Bishop’s office shuffles paperwork to congregations seeking pastors, but the congregation is the hiring agent. The Bishop's office has salary guidelines and all full time pastors participate in health insurance and retirement programs, which the congregation pays. However, all this needs to be negotiated. In this process, I welcomed the freedom to make my own decisions regarding the geographical area of the country to live and work. Of course, now my wife and I make these decisions together. 

During this transition, I was without a pay check for only the nine months of education. Although this transition was fairly “seamless”, it didn’t seem so at the time. I wasn’t sure of acceptance in this denomination until it occurred about two years after leaving the priesthood. I felt fear of what the future would hold, but also sensed God’s guidance. I was angry at the Catholic Church for making this whole transition necessary. Because of my incessant need to please, I regretted disappointing Catholic friends and parishioners when I left. I loved them and was sorry to leave. Most  whom I have run across since leaving see little redeeming value in Catholicism, especially since the latest eruption of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

By the time I left the sabbatical, I had been accepted as a candidate for ordained ministry in this denomination, but had several more steps to go before final acceptance. During my sabbatical, I also connected with Corpus, which was a great blessing. They had monthly meetings that enabled me to network with other transitioned priests. It was a joy to participate in their meetings and I will always be grateful for them. Through Corpus, I found two counselors and met with them regularly during the sabbatical. They were a transitioned priest and sister who were married and had a practice in the area. It was during this time that I finalized my decision to leave the priesthood. The peace and joy I found in my decision was euphoric. What a sense of freedom!

After returning to my parish, I found it sad to look out over the congregation realizing I would be leaving in a few weeks. Rather than discuss my leaving the priesthood, I told them I was going to go back on sabbatical, which was partially true, because I was returning for education. Although many of them would have supported my decision to leave, I was in no condition to receive the shaming scorn of the conservatives. Besides, I still wasn’t sure what my future would hold.

Discussions with my bishop went as well as could be expected. He agreed to pay my salary for three months and my medical insurance for one year, which I think is pretty much standard policy in other dioceses when priests resign. Later, I settled with my diocese regarding my retirement. After fifteen years of service in the priesthood, I received a lump sum payment equal to about a year and a half of retirement contributions made by my congregation in this denomination. However, unlike many other dioceses, I was vested after ten years of ministry.

It is a huge injustice for resigning priests to receive no retirement benefits in retaliation for leaving. Some of these priests have served thirty, or more, years in the priesthood. Thanks to the work of Corpus, many more dioceses are including resigned priests in their retirement programs.

In this denomination, we receive a quarterly retirement statement and personally choose from several investment alternatives. Retirement funds are ours from the get-go and are never used for punishment. However, I do understand the Catholic Church’s policy that one must be in ministry for five to ten years prior to being vested for retirement, as most dioceses have paid for the priest’s theological education and that is a significant expense.

I greatly enjoyed my academic year of studies. This was a wonderful and graced time. At first, it felt odd studying with both men and women candidates for ordination, but I appreciated the gender equality and the freedom I felt was palpable.

My internship began when my studies at the seminary concluded. I found it humbling to go from pastoring a large city congregation with an associate pastor and staff to becoming an intern in a small congregation under the supervision of another pastor. It was during this internship that I married my wonderful wife.

Following the internship, I completed the paper work necessary for placement in a congregation and received a call to begin ministry.  It is a blessing to continue in ordained ministry.


From Abel McGregor
OUTSIDE CELIBATE PRIESTHOOD THERE IS SALVATION

“We will always miss your homilies in front of the altar- may the Lord bless you…”
“I miss your sermons, they were very good, do you still have the talent?”
“You are the fellow who made my faith to be strong. I thank God indeed you were such a great Father to me. I do miss you indeed and I think I still need you in my life”
“Miss your preaching you are the anointed man of God no matter what”
“It’s really sad to lose great and talented people like you”
“I thank God for people like you; you changed my mother’s life. May the good Lord grant you more wisdom and continue in his ministry”
“Your parents are blessed to have you as a son; the Lord will take you places because you are a soul winner and an investment in his Kingdom”
“We really appreciate you and God’s Spirit in you; you are a vessel of honour Father”

These are some of the message posted on my face book wall by various people when they heard that I had requested for a leave of absence from priesthood. I was ordained a priest in 2006 and I made a decision to quit in 2011. Only 5 years of service. In those 5 years I had assumed the following roles: Director of Formation, Student Prefect, Parish Priest, Dean (in two deaneries), Lecturer in two seminaries, Chaired the committee for Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning, Ex Officio in Caritas, an active member of the Cathedral extension committee and a member of the Senate of Priests.

It is almost unbelievable that I could handle all these as a young priest. Looking at the roles and the above comments by people on my face book wall one can easily see that I was indeed talented and over-burdened. The question that boggles many a people is “When one is that talented, what would make him leave priesthood?”

This is the first time that I am writing about my experience as a priest so I beg the indulgence of the reader if the story is all mixed up and incoherent. If I am to summarize my story I would say I was both pushed out and pulled out of priesthood.

What pushed me out? Disillusionment, de-motivation, dis-satisfaction, dis-interested. Priesthood had ceased to be fun and was becoming more and more frustrating and stressing. When I look back at the 5 years of service I can see that I did far too much in such a short time. I had no time to enjoy being a young priest. I even had no time to make mistakes as a young priest. I was made busy right a day after my ordination. I was ordained on 18 February. It was a Saturday. On 19 February I said four masses. Two were in the same parish (7am and 9 am). The third mass was in another parish at 10h30am. The fourth mass was for a youth gathering in another parish. At the end of the day I was exhausted- what a beginning to ministry! This became almost the daily routine for the next 5 years. As I was concentrating and giving myself to the assigned roles and duties the inner life was relegated to the periphery. That was detrimental. I was totally immersed in my work to the extent that my work became my identity. I was what I was doing. But if we define ourselves by what we do- who do we become when we stop doing? Identity crisis crept in.

I made a name for remarkable administration skills, for preaching (I was even a part time lecturer in homiletics in two theological seminaries), for retreat giving (especially to nuns), giving talks. As the outward me grew and expanded, the inner me was crumbling. I was becoming more and more empty. The downward movement had began. I felt I needed to do something to get myself back on track. The most important thing that I needed was rest. But I couldn’t rest I even created more responsibilities for myself. Prayer became duty and not a way of life. The founder of the Congregation to which I was a member once wrote- he who prays will be saved; he who does not pray shall surely be lost. I felt lost and alienated from my community. I had more friends outside the community than within my community. I spent more time outside the community than in my community. I grew in unhappiness and that impacted negatively my ministry. That plunged me in depression. I recalled the words of one priest, “there is a deep contradiction between priesthood and depression. You can be a good and depressed banker… a gloomy and effective accountant. But one cannot be a preacher of the gospel and be plunged in gloom. It makes no sense. We can only be credible bearers of good news if we are fundamentally, if not always joyful”   Unhappiness became my constant mode of being and I questioned the rationale behind continuing in that state.

In the midst of all this I met someone who, as it were, awakened a part of me that had been dormant for long. She, as it were, pulled me out of my unhappy state. She was not a Catholic and she had no idea about Catholic priesthood. We started out as friends but in no time the feeling of love mutually developed. I told her that I was a priest, but that meant nothing to her and to me honestly. For the first few months we thought we could handle the affair and privatise it. However with time frustration crept in. There are two things that a man cannot hide- that he is drunk and that he is in love. Everything about me changed. This experience of being in love gave me some unknown peace and fulfilment. Truly there was something missing in my life. I used to be invited to preach at profession ceremonies and at weddings. I realised that when I was preaching at professions I was not as convinced and convincing as I was when preaching at weddings. Especially when I was talking about celibacy. I was taught to value celibacy as a vow that made us men on fire with love. But in my experience celibacy only made us consecrated icebergs. What lied at the heart of my alienation was something that lies at the heart of what it is to be human: Love. To be human is to be able to receive and to give love. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and if God is love, then we were created by love in the image and likeness of love. We were made for love.

Falling in love opened me to a world that I had only heard about and spoken about but had never experienced. The challenge was to put myself in a position where I could legitimately enter into this experience without feeling guilty. I needed to convince myself that I had every right to this experience. I knew what I had to do. I had to quit. It took more time, faith and courage to quit than it took to enter. I announced to my Superior that I was quitting. After a lengthy empty talk he suggested that I start by applying for a year’s leave of absence and take more time to think. I accepted this though I told him that I had made up my mind and I knew what I wanted. I wanted to reclaim a part of me that had been robbed by the Church. He could not understand me. Isn’t it true that only that in you which is in me will understand what I am saying. So canonically I am on leave of absence until May 2012.

I will write more on my experience from the day that it was announced that I had taken some time out of priesthood.


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